Indonesia tsunami, volcano death toll rises

Last updated 06:33 28/10/2010

Volcano, tsunami hit Indonesia

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TSUNAMI TERROR: Women and children flee to higher ground in Padang, West Sumatra.

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A tsunami and a volcanic eruption in Indonesia have killed more than 300 people with over 400 missing and tens of thousands displaced, authorities say.

One of Indonesia's most active volcanoes spewed out clouds of ash and jets of searing gas in an eruption that has killed at least 28 people and injured 14.

» Click here to see an interactive timeline of major quakes in 2010.

Mount Merapi, on the outskirts of the city of Yogyakarta on Java island, first erupted on Wednesday (NZT), a day after a tsunami pounded remote islands in western Indonesia. The death toll in the tsunami was at least 282, said West Sumatra provincial disaster official Ade Edward.

The tsunami, triggered by a 7.7-magnitude quake that struck 78 km west of South Pagai, one of the Mentawai islands, flattened several villages and a surf resort. At least 411 people are still missing, Edward said.

The National Disaster Mitigation Agency said on its website that 4000 people had been displaced by the tsunami.

Metro TV showed footage of villages flattened by the wave, with dejected survivors combing through rubble for belongings.

Authorities have been battling to handle both disasters, with more than 40,000 villagers evacuated from the slopes of Mount Merapi, where many houses have been destroyed, their ruins lying covered in white ash.

Kresno Heru Nugroho, head spokesman for Yogyakarta's Sardjito hospital, said 28 people had been killed by deadly bursts of hot air released by the volcano late yesterday. His colleague Endita Sri Andrianti said some were burned beyond recognition.

VOLCANO SPIRITUAL GUARDIAN FEARED DEAD

Another hospital official told Reuters it was likely that among the dead was the elderly spiritual guardian of the mountain, Mbah Maridjan, believed by many Javanese to possess magical powers. Tests were being carried out to confirm a charred body found on the volcano was his.

Many Indonesians posted tributes via Facebook and Twitter to the volcano's widely-loved custodian, regarded as a protector who used a combination of Islamic and animist rituals to keep Merapi under control.

The Sultan of Yogyakarta also appeared on Metro TV to pay tribute to the guardian.

Many of the victims had been found in or around Maridjan's house in the village of Kinahredjo, close to the volcano's crater, local media reported. A Reuters cameraman at Kinahredjo said that several houses and cattle had been burned.

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"All the houses are blanketed in ash, completely white. The leaves have been burned off the trees," said cameraman Johan Purnomo.

The country's top vulcanologist, Surono, said Merapi was now "quite calm" but that the respite could be temporary.

"I have advised local officials to continue the evacuations. It's still on the highest alert level," he said.

Metro TV, however, showed some villagers returning home.

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono flew back from Hanoi, where he had been due to take part in a summit of Asian leaders, to oversee relief efforts for the Merapi eruption and Sumatra tsunami. He said he expected to return to Vietnam for the main summit which runs from Friday to Sunday.

In a 1994 eruption after the volcano's lava dome collapsed, 70 people were killed. The volcano killed 1300 people in 1930.

In December 2004, a tsunami caused by an earthquake of more than 9 magnitude off Sumatra killed more than 226,000 people. It was the deadliest tsunami on record.

KIWI SURFER SURVIVES TSUNAMI

A group of surfers - including a New Zealander - has arrived in the Indonesian city of Padang with a harrowing tale of being hit by the tsunami on Sumatra's west coast.

The surfers, which also include an American and eight Australians, said they were on the back deck of their anchored charter boat, the MV Midas, when the wall of water smashed them into a neighbouring vessel, triggering a fire that quickly ripped through their cabin.

"They hit us directly in the side of the boat, piercing a fuel tank," Daniel North, the American crew member, told Associated Press.

"Almost immediately, the captain gave the order to abandon ship and everyone got off the boat."

The New Zealander and his companions clung to surfboards, fenders - anything that floated - as they washed through the wetlands and then climbed the highest trees they could find and waited for more than 90 minutes until they felt safe.

They arrived back in Padang today after an 11-hour journey through rough seas and five of the group were taken to hospital in Padang for treatment of minor injuries such as a broken toe, cuts, burns and scratches, News Limited reported.

Some of the men were swept hundreds of metres into the jungle by the tsunami - including Australian tour guide Rick Hallet, the skipper of the Midas. He said that when the earthquake struck he heard an almighty roar.

"One of the surfers asked, what is that? I said: 'tsunami' and looked out the back and it hit us within a few seconds really".

The group has since managed to speak with their families and said they were looking forward to getting home. One said he could not believe they were all alive.

Mr Hallet said some of the surfers had to cling to trees to survive.

"The bay we were in was several hundred metres across and the wall of white water was from one side to the other, it was quite scary," Mr Hallet told Fairfax Radio Network.

He had five local crew, and the surfers in addition to Mr North were named as Rob Marino, James Finucan, Jethro Jones, Kevin Fitzpatrick, Guy Margin, Daniel Scanlan, Jimmy Black, Gregory Gotlieb and Richard Hope.

Six Sydney men on the charter boat Freedom III, a 22m powered catamaran, which collided with the MV Midas, were not injured.

The boats were anchored at the Macaronis break on Pagai Selatan Island, 800km northwest of Jakarta.

- with NZPA

- Reuters

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